For the first time all season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team (9-3, 1-0) was playing with a full deck of cards on Thursday afternoon, as both Gene Brown (concussion) and Isaac Likekele (personal) were back in uniform and available to play. That meant all 13 scholarship players were available to play for the first time since March of 2021.
After a weeklong break for Christmas following a 34-point shellacking of Maine, the Buckeyes rolled out a starting lineup of Bruce Thornton, Sean McNeil, Justice Sueing, Brice Sensabaugh, and Zed Key — the same lineup Chris Holtmann has been using since Likekele went out nearly one month ago. Alabama A&M head coach Otis Hughley Jr. went with Messiah Thompson, Garrett Hicks, Dailin Smith, Austin Harvell, and Olisa Blaise Akonobi.
Despite a sluggish first half, Ohio State was able to run away from Alabama A&M in the second half to the tune of a 31-point win, 90-59. Sensabaugh was the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. Sueing chipped in 18, and Thornton had a clean dozen to round out the Buckeyes’ double-digit scorers. Hicks led AAMU with 11 points on 5-10 shooting over 31 minutes.
The freshman standout Sensabaugh has led the Buckeyes in scoring in each of their last three games, and an early flurry of scoring from him put his team up early in this one. Sensabaugh took four of Ohio State’s first six shots in the game, knocking down three of them, to help push his Buckeyes out to an early 9-4 lead 4:26 into the game.
Sensabaugh continues to be sensational. @bricepsensa x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/BpP83We0xt— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) December 29, 2022
However, the Bulldogs, who lead the SWAC in three-point shooting at 41%, were able to briefly tie the game at 13 thanks to back-to-back triples from Thompson and Smith 6:06 into the game. A&M began to speed things up and despite a week to prepare for it, the Buckeyes were not getting back on defense quickly enough and the Bulldogs made them pay.
Ohio State regained the lead a minute later on a Tanner Holden long jumper, and by the under-eight timeout, they’d pulled ahead by six points, 26-20. The Buckeyes got a little three-happy in the first half, with 10 of their first 20 shots coming from downtown. Unfortunately, they only hit two of them. The Bulldogs — as they do — were grabbing these long rebounds and sprinting the other way for quick baskets to keep themselves in the game.
The Bulldogs took the lead for 1:12 late in the first half, but Ohio State strung together five consecutive points in the closing minutes to pull back ahead. By halftime, the Buckeyes held a slim 36-33 lead. Sensabaugh led all scorers with 11 first-half points, while Thompson’s eight points paced the Bulldogs.
Halfway there. #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/XGKPVDGVNC— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) December 29, 2022
The Buckeyes outscored the Bulldogs 15-4 over the first five minutes of the second half, extending their one-point lead to 14 following Sueing’s seventh three-pointer of the season. By the under-12 media timeout, the Buckeyes held a 58-43 lead. They were still taking a few three-pointers, but OSU generally began to seek higher percentage looks even if the opportunity was there for a triple.
Someone must’ve also given Sueing a pep talk at halftime, as the Buckeye captain came out and scored 10 points over the first 10 minutes of the second half after scoring just six points in the first half. Sueing had outscored his season average of 13.2 PPG by the 13:48 mark of the second half.
What a start to the second half for @OhioStateHoops ‼️ pic.twitter.com/Uqvg7KCTCd— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) December 29, 2022
Alabama A&M struggled to contain the two-headed beast of Sensabaugh and Sueing throughout the second half, as those two (almost solely on their own) powered Ohio State to a 69-47 lead by the under-eight media timeout with 7:28 remaining. With seven minutes and some change left in the game, the duo combined for 36 points on 14-22 shooting, including 4-9 from long range. They would go on to combine for 39 points, seen rebounds, and three assists.
BRIC3️⃣ S3️⃣NSABAUGH. @bricepsensa x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/IjWBnZImzR— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) December 29, 2022
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Buckeyes had buried the Bulldogs, 90-59. Ohio State outscored their SWAC foes 54-26 in the second half, and led for 37:15 of this game.
If you weren’t able to catch Ohio State’s win in today’s rare Big Ten - SWAC matchup, here are a few key plays and points that played a role in the Buckeyes’ ninth win of the season.
Can’t leave the freshman
The defense has picked up for Sensabaugh as the season has progressed, and so too have his minutes. The freshman was leading Ohio State in points per game entering today’s contest at 15.3 PPG, and he took four of the Buckeyes' first six shots this afternoon, scoring his team’s first five points.
Sensabaugh was left open for a couple wide-open three-pointers, hitting one of them. He also was able to shot-fake and drive to the basket twice early, and the Bulldogs didn’t have much to stop him. Planning for the 235-pound freshman is one thing, but executing your defense against him is something else. His season average now sits at 15.8 PPG.
A&M gets hot to tie it
After falling behind early, Alabama A&M used back-to-back three-pointers from Thompson and Smith to tie things up 13-13 six minutes into the game. The Bulldogs are the best three-point shooting team in the SWAC, and Thompson is one of the best in the conference at 45.1%.
Bulldogs looking for a track meet
Alabama A&M came into this game as one of the quicker teams in the nation in terms of tempo, ranking inside the top 50 in possessions per game according to KenPom. They tested the Buckeyes early to see how quickly their foes could react to their speed, and it didn’t go well. The Bulldogs sprinted off of Ohio State misses on more than one occasion in the first half to get a shot off on the other end before the Buckeyes could set their defense, and Chris Holtmann had to call timeout repeatedly to regroup. The Buckeyes, in comparison, are No. 229 in adjusted tempo.
Welcome back, Gene!
After missing the first 11 games of the season and recovering from the second concussion of his career, the Ohio State junior checked in to today’s game at the 11:22 mark and played two minutes. He was scored on once, missed one shot, and was subbed out two minutes later for Sensabaugh, to a large applause from the fans. He finished the game with two points, two rebounds, and two steals in five minutes.
Roddy Gayle with the big block
It's a block party in Columbus. @roddy_gayle x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/sDwurorncD— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) December 29, 2022
With Ohio State leading 26-20 and 9:24 remaining in the first half, Sueing turned the ball over in front of the A&M bench. Cameron Tucker sprinted down the floor on the fast break and dished it to Eric Lee, who went for the layup over Gayle. Despite backpedaling the whole way guarding the two-on-one, Gayle was able to elevate and block Lee’s layup. The ball bonked off Lee’s head and went out — Buckeye basketball. Gayle finished with two points, three assists, and that block over 12 minutes.
A&M takes their first lead of the game
With 1:51 to go before halftime, Brandon Powell’s knocked down his third three-pointer of the season right in front of Chris Holtmann to give the Bulldogs a 32-31 lead — their first of the game. Powell — who averages 2.4 PPG — finished with five points and five rebounds over 16 minutes.
In case of emergency, break glass for Ice
After missing a few weeks of practice while being away from the team, it was unclear how much Likekele would play today — if at all. But Holtmann checked the senior into the game with 1:03 remaining before halftime, and he immediately brought the ball up and dished it off to Key for a layup to put the Buckeyes up two points, 35-33. It seemed like a “break glass in case of emergency” situation and being tied with a 4-8 Alabama A&M team at halftime certainly qualified as that.
Ice finished with two points, two rebounds, five assists, and a block over nine minutes. After the game, Holtmann said that Likekele “Just isn’t ready to play 20, 25 minutes in a game yet” after missing multiple weeks of practice.
Extra E turns to O
Leading 45-37 roughly four minutes into the second half, McNeil missed a corner three but Felix Okpara was able to corral the board among a crowd of Bulldogs with a bit of extra effort. He passed out to Thornton at the top of the key, who swung it to Sensabaugh on the right wing. Sensabaugh took two dribbles to the baseline and took a fading baseline jumper and canned it for his 12th and 13th points of the game, giving Ohio State a double-digit lead for the first time in the game. The Buckeyes had 13 offensive rebounds as a team.
Sueing wakes up, Buckeyes surge ahead
.@JusticeSueing for back-to-back 3’s— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) December 29, 2022
AAM: 4️⃣2️⃣#Team124 | #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/8UbZLQfGlZ
After scoring just six points on 2-3 shooting in the first half, Sueing slammed down a dunk to open the second-half scoring and kept going after that. The sixth-year senior scored 10 of Ohio State’s first 22 points in the second half, including his seventh and eighth three-pointers of the season. He knocked down a pair of free throws at the 12:44 mark to give his team a 58-43 lead, which was their largest of the afternoon to that point. Sueing finished the game with 18 points on 6-8 shooting, plus two assists to three turnovers. 18 points is his third highest output of the season.
McNeil keeps letting it rip, misses be damned
Sean McNeil transferred to Ohio State as a career 36.8% three-point shooter, but really hasn’t torched the nets thus far this season in Columbus. He entered today’s game shooting 35.3% from downtown, and proceeded to go 3-9 from long range. He missed four of his first five, but if there’s any game to have a quick trigger, it’s probably against Alabama A&M, right? He finished the game with nine points on 3-10 shooting overall and also had four rebounds plus a block.
Ohio State (9-3, 1-0) has a quick turnaround, getting just two days off before a road game at Northwestern (10-2, 1-0) Sunday night. The Wildcats have exceeded expectations thus far, reaching the 10-win mark a whole month faster than they did last year (Northwestern won its tenth game of the season on February 1 last year). Northwestern has wins over Michigan State and DePaul on their resume already and is the No. 45 team in the nation according to KenPom.
The Ohio State - Northwestern game in Evanston will tip off at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday night and will be broadcast on BTN.